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by Caro Peacock
Harper, October 2008
380 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0007244215

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the second of the Liberty Lane series, Liberty is now living in London, sharing her reduced circumstances and humble abode with Mrs Martley, who is one of several carry-overs from DEATH AT DAWN, the first in the series. Other characters who have followed Liberty to London are the loyal groom Amos Legge, her musician friend Daniel Suter and Benjamin Disraeli who has just made his maiden speech in Parliament (a speech that was much derided according to Peacock). It is a combination of Suter and Disraeli who set in motion the events of this book; Disraeli wants her to investigate a dancer named Columbine who is about to re-launch herself on the London stage - Disraeli's concern is that the woman poses a danger to 'the good order of society'. When Liberty goes to investigate she finds that the musical director at the Augustus theatre, where Columbine is to perform, is none other than Daniel, who has fallen hopelessly in love with one of the dancers, Jenny Jarvis. Columbine, it emerges, is a colossal diva and hopeless dancer. On the night of the first performance she systematically attacks Jenny until the latter is forced to respond and on-stage fight ensues. Jenny runs away and disappears. Soon after Columbine is found murdered, poisoned by what appears to be something in her syllabub. When the same poison, thornapple, is found in Jenny's possession she is arrested and speedily convicted of murder. Liberty faces a desperate race against time to find the real murderer in order to save Jenny.

DEATH OF A DANCER is a perfectly competent historical mystery. The period detail is lightly but intelligently done, the narrative flows smoothly and the mystery itself satisfactory. It is an improvement on the first book in the series, and feels as if Peacock has more of a grip on both period and the character of Liberty herself. But for all this the problem remains for all those who were fans of Peacock in her Gillian Linscott, Nell Bray, incarnation; the Nell Bray series was more than all those qualities I have listed. It had depth, weight, insight, wit, emotional intensity. No doubt it is unfair to keep harping on this subject but equally I have little doubt that it is impossible not to. A great mystery series, and the Nell Bray series was that, cannot be easily forgotten. This is the successful author's burden.

The problem for DEATH OF A DANCER is that there is nothing exceptional about it. Well nothing exceptional but for one thing - the actual murder method. This is brilliant, quirky and ,as far as I know, completely original. It is certainly what I shall remember from the book. It is also in many ways quite funny - not that it would be funny in reality, but in the context of classic mystery murder methods it is definitely irreverent and therefore funny. The book would be worth reading for this alone. It something which would have sat very well in a Nell Bray book. But even without this, DEATH OF A DANCER is a perfectly enjoyable, perfectly competent book; and maybe now the series is established it will develop in weightier and unexpected directions.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, November 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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